Aris reaches another final

Aris Thessaloniki advanced to the final of the ULEB Cup, Europe’s second-greatest club competition, on Tuesday night, seeing Serbia’s Hemofarm Vrsac off with an 82-77 win that covered the Greeks’ 3-point away loss in the first leg a week earlier. Aris, the most successful basketball club in Greece in the 1980s, will now face Dynamo Moscow in the final on April 11 in Charleroi, Belgium. Six thousand fans packed Thessaloniki’s Alexandrion arena and saw a really tight game where the lead often changed hands by the minute. Hemofarm proved a tough nut for Aris to crack, leading 16-20 after the first period. The hosts slowly overcame the fans’ pressure and ended the first half on top (43-37). Led by skipper Ryan Stack and American guard Corey Brewer, Aris held on until the end, going into the last minute 4 points ahead (and one in aggregate). Rashad Wright scored one out of two freethrows to make it 80-77. Then with the last throw of the dice, Terrel Castle scored with an unlikely shot to see his team qualify and the Aris fans invade the court celebrating with the players. Stack, the scorer of 20 points on the night, said: «I am proud of the guys as everyone did what they should for this result to come; I’m even more happy for Terrel who scored a really big shot. Now we are just one step from the cup and the Euroleague.» The winner of each year’s ULEB Cup qualifies for next season’s Euroleague, Europe’s prime club competition. Aris enjoys a fine record in European finals, having won on all three occasions: In 1993 it won the Cup Winners Cup, in 1997 the Korac Cup and in 2003 the Champions Cup. Giorgos Sigalas, the only Greek to score on Tuesday, said «what matters is we are through to the final. We’ll go and enjoy ourselves there and see what comes out of it.» Notably, Aris’s opponent in the final, Dynamo is led by two regular stars of the Greek national team, Antonis Fotsis and Lazaros Papadopoulos, and coached by Dusan Ivkovic, the Serbian former coach of Aris. The final’s organizers have promised Aris only 1,250 tickets for its fans, which is nowhere near the demand expected. The Thessaloniki club is already trying to secure more tickets, although the stands at the Spirou Dome can hold no more than 6,600 fans in total. Last year another Greek club, Makedonikos, played in the ULEB Cup final and lost to Lietuvos Rytas of Lithuania.